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The medal count: U.S., China creating 'parallel Olympics'

August 18, 2008 |  4:59 am

Lin Dan of China during the men's gold medal match in badminton. Lin won.

BEIJING -- U.S. athletes are doing well in the sports their country traditionally cares about.

Chinese athletes are doing well in the sports their country traditionally cares about, plus some in which they have created instant tradition based on success.

“What we have here is a parallel Olympics,” said David Wallechinsky, author of “The Complete Book of the Olympics.”

“We in the United States are focused on swimming, track and field and basketball, and we hardly notice that China just won five gold medals in sports like badminton, shooting and women’s weightlifting.”

While pool swimming (as opposed to open water) and track have by far the most medals at stake, U.S. dominance there likely will not be enough to keep China from topping the gold medal count.

“A lot of people are saying China is traditionally not as strong in the second week, but traditionally they don’t win xx gold medals in the first week,” said Steve Roush, chief of sports performance for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

“I’m not sure tradition is the best predictor of the future where China is concerned.”

China led 35-19 in the gold medal tally after Sunday’s action, the final day of pool swimming, in which the U.S. won 12 of 32 golds and China just one.

It is no surprise that Chinese media are among many worldwide that list the medal standings by gold rather than total medals, where the United States leads 65-61.

Roush and other USOC officials long had predicted that China would have exceptional results based on its Project 119, which identified 119 potential medal events and focused time and money on them.

“For the non-believers, it is reality that the Chinese investment over the past six or seven years has proved to be successful in events where they typically had not succeeded on the international level,” Roush said.

While U.S. athletes should win several gold medals in team sports that end later this week, their only hope to surpass China depends on doing better in track and field than seems reasonably possible — especially after failing to win the men’s shotput and both the men’s and women’s 100-meter dash.

An everything-goes-right view would have the United States winning 31 gold medals in the second week of the Olympics, which would make the total 48, or a whopping 12 more than the total four years ago in Athens.

China won 32 golds in Athens. While many sports they have dominated here are over, the Chinese should add to their current total with three more golds in table tennis, three more in diving, and one or more in boxing and gymnastics, with others possible in canoe-kayak and track and field.

These are possible places for the United States to add to its gold total.

Beach volleyball, two; baseball, one (unlikely); basketball, two (expected); BMX cycling, one; gymnastics, two; equestrian, one; sailing, one; soccer, one; softball, one (expected); taekwondo, one; volleyball, one; and water polo, one.

The United States has a shot at 16 gold medals in track and field, but its athletes are favored for only seven: men’s and women’s 400 meters, women’s 200, men’s 400 hurdles, decathlon and both 1,600-meter relays.

“Our Olympic team is performing well,” Roush insisted. “This isn’t a matter of the United States losing the gold medal count but of China stepping up and winning it.”

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Lin Dan of China during the men's gold medal match in badminton. Lin won. Credit: Indranil Mukherjee / AFP / Getty Images

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